Bridge 3.0

Like our new digs? This is our third website in 4½ years, and I’m excited because it feels like a truer representation of who we are and what we’re all about.

The idea for The Bridge site seems simple; There are my anchorman-style daily updates, and thousands of videos, photos, and calendar events promoting Cape Ann. But creating a website that showcases and explains all the components of The Bridge has been a struggle. I’m not a programmer nor tech savvy, and we’ve never had a web developer on hand to create on the fly or deal with glitches and security flaws. It’s a pain – especially when you must rely on a third party to create and curate your public showpiece. To better explain, let’s backtrack a bit.

We launched our first site, a beta test site called OvaTheBridge.com, in June of 2012. A developer friend pieced it together in his spare time. Atop the page was my daily updates window. We called it Bridge Headquarters because we were working out my kitchen. Beneath me was a grid of self-produced videos from advertisers and contributors (our “Bridge Buddies”). It was clunky but fun to see familiar faces greeting you with the latest info from their place of business every day. However, as we grew and evolved, the technical problems mounted. We spent too much time putting out fires or teaching Buddies the nuances of the site. We needed something legit.

In the early 2014, with a big hand from The Innovation House in Magnolia (another story for another time), we hired a third party to create BridgeCapeAnn.com. It launched that August and was a giant improvement. It was clean, fully functional, and looked great on mobile devices. Gone was the grid of videos I loved, but we had to make aesthetic sacrifices to optimize the mobile site. Most of our followers were watching on phones and tablets, and we knew that number would only increase. So, we opted for a timeline format with an endless scroll to view content on a single page. A grid of videos icons would look tiny in a timeline, so we said goodbye to a lot of familiar faces, except my round, orangey one.

One huge difference between the two sites: BridgeCapeAnn.com was a singular powerful social media base shared by business owners to reach a larger local audience, not a go-to site to find cool content. Big mistake. I still love the concept: a hyperlocal Facebook-like site built for a community where people could do the same things they were already doing on Facebook or YouTube or Twitter, but the audience would be very localized (and you wouldn’t have to pay to reach them). Nor would you have to compete with hundreds of millions of posts and uploads from around the world. With dozens of Bridge Buddies utilizing one site, their visibility in Cape Ann would increase as would their discoverability online. Instead of seeing signs at every register or storefront saying, “Follow us on Facebook” you would see “Follow us on The Bridge.” This made perfect sense then, and in many ways, it still does. However, there were many factors we didn't realize.

Business owners don’t have the time or personnel to constantly create engaging content. They weren't going to learn how to use a new social media site when they couldn't quantify the return from using the world’s biggest social media platforms. Plus, we couldn't convince them to abandon Facebook and focus on our little site. Half the world (including most of their families, friends, and followers) were already on Facebook. Why leave? Once this sunk in, I turned the focus away from the website, using it mostly to house content, and decided to build a popular Facebook page. I’d do the dirty work, creating and posting content and running contests to build our audience. It worked. Our following tripled.

Still, we’re playing by Facebook’s rules. If Facebook business page owners don’t pay (or “boost”) their posts, Facebook allows only a tiny percentage of their followers see their content. Therefore, it’s critical that The Bridge has an accompanying website of continuously fresh content that is easy to find and share. Behold Bridge 3.0. It’s made for you to enjoy and me to manage without relying on others or technology. My beloved grid of videos is back, too, and looks sweet on mobile.

BridgeCapeAnn.com must simultaneously deliver fun, informative content to you as well as explain how businesses, non-profits, and community groups can participate. No easy task, since most of what we do is offline, like our events, festivals, and seminars. But videos are still our bread and butter. So please, let me know how to make your Bridge experience even better. Extra eyeballs always help.

We’ve come a long way since OvaTheBridge. Spread the word, enjoy the new BridgeCapeAnn, and we’ll see you in the neighborhood soon.